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Lost Books of the Bible 

According to some estimates, early Christians wrote at least twenty 
gospels that weren't included in the bible. Many of these non-biblical 
gospels apparently disappeared later, although it's possible that copies of 
some of them still survive at unknown locations. Luckily, several that 
appeared to be missing have been found again in modern times. But some 
are still missing, and could be permanently lost. 

Gospels that were left out of the Bible are called noncanonical gospels. 
Many scholars also call them apocryphal books, because most of them 
have unknown origins. This uncertainty about their origins was one reason 
many of them were excluded from the Bible. But some were also excluded 
because they expressed unorthodox or heretical views. 

Scholars know about the past existence of some missing gospels 
because they are mentioned in other ancient writings that have survived. 
Parts of some lost books were even copied into surviving writings, so that a 
portion of their original content is still preserved. 

In fact, people are often surprised to learn that parts of several lost 
gospels may have been preserved in Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. This 
preserved material has been identified by certain characteristics which 
indicate that it was copied from other writings. Thus the authors of the New 
Testament gospels apparently got some of their information from earlier 
writings. Modern scholars call these earlier writings "sources", and have 
determined that there were probably three of them. But apparently all of 
them have disappeared. 

These three lost sources may have been the first gospels. Their ancient 
names are unknown, so they are usually identified by modern names, 
specifically the Lost Q Source, the Pre- Markan Passion Narrative, and the 
Signs Gospel. Because no copies of any of them have survived, they are 
sometimes called hypothetical gospels. But most scholars believe that they 
really did exist at one time. 

Actually, these three missing gospels aren't completely lost, since 
material from them is preserved in Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. In fact, 
considerable knowledge about their original content has been obtained by 
studying this preserved material. 

Some other non-biblical gospels have been discovered more directly, 
because actual physical remains have been found. Examples include the 
Gospel of Peter, the Gospel of Mary, and the Gospel of Judas. All of these 
were discovered in modern times. But only fragments or secondary 
translations have been found, so the complete original forms of all of them 
are still unavailable. 

These three rediscovered gospels are named after Simon Peter, Mary 
Magdalene, and Judas Iscariot, but those weren't their real authors. Their 
real authors are unknown, and will probably never be identified. In ancient 
times unknown authors would sometimes ascribe their books to famous 
people in an effort to get more publicity and authority for them. 

Ancient writers mentioned a number of other gospels which they knew 
about, but which apparently no longer survive. These include the Gospel of 
Matthias, the Gospel of Perfection, the Gospel of the Seventy, the Dialogue 
of the Savior, the Gospel of the Twelve, the Book of the Hebrews, the 
Gospel of the Nazarenes, the Gospel of Bartholomew, the Secret Gospel of 
Mark, and the Gospel of Eve. Other gospels may have also existed, but 
even their names have been lost. 

Some early gospels may have vanished because they were secret 
gospels and very few copies were made. Others could have been lost due 
to wars, conquests, upheavals, and persecutions. In addition, there have 
been accusations that early church leaders intentionally destroyed some 
books in order to cover up embarrassing facts about the origins of 
Christianity. Some intentional destruction did take place, but exactly what 
was lost can't be determined. 

But the modern discoveries prove that a missing gospel can sometimes 

be found again. And there is a chance that more will be found in the future, 
especially since small fragments of several possible unknown gospels have 
been uncovered in various excavations. 

Here are brief descriptions of some of the best-known lost (or 
rediscovered) gospels: 

The Gospel of Peter 

A fragment of this gospel was discovered in Egypt in the late nineteenth 
century, and two more possible fragments have been found since then. But 
a large portion may still be missing. Hopefully the remainder will eventually 
be found, because the available text contains some interesting material, 
including the only known description of Jesus leaving the tomb after his 

Ever since the first fragment was discovered, this gospel has been 
controversial. A few scholars think that it preserves some of the beliefs and 
views of the earliest Christians. But most regard it as a secondary work 
containing a mixture of fanciful elements and material copied from the New 
Testament gospels. 

One very intriguing part of this gospel is its account of the exit of Jesus 
from the tomb. This exit takes place during the night as some Roman 
soldiers stand guard nearby. Suddenly the soldiers see two men (or angels) 
descend from heaven and enter the tomb. A short time later the men come 
back out with Jesus between them. At this point the men look so tall that 
their heads reach to the sky, and Jesus looks even taller. They are followed 
out of the tomb by a cross. Suddenly the soldiers hear a voice from heaven, 
and the cross answers it. 

The description of this scene puzzles many people, since it appears to 
depict a wooden cross that can walk and talk. But some scholars think that 
the passage is actually describing a cross-like formation of resurrected 
saints who have returned to life along with Jesus and follow him out of the 
tomb. A few scholars also see connections between this account and a 
passage at Matthew 27:52-53, which describes a similar resurrection of 
dead saints. 

The Gospel of Mary 

The existence of this gospel was unknown until several fragments were 
discovered in modern times. Since the only long fragment is a Coptic 
translation, most of the original Greek text is still lost. And even the long 
fragment may only include about half of the gospel. 

Because the "Mary" in this gospel is depicted as a very prominent 
disciple, most scholars assume that she is Mary Magdalene, although in the 
extant text she is always just called Mary. The gospel emphasizes her 
prominence by presenting her as a strong leader, and by suggesting that 
she was the most favored disciple of Jesus and received a special 
revelation from him. It also suggests that this led to a conflict with Peter, 
who may have seen her as a threat to his position as overall leader of the 
disciples in the period after Jesus departed. 

Indications of a rivalry with Peter are especially evident in the last section 
of the extant text, in which Mary gets into an argument with Peter and his 
brother Andrew over some private revelations that Jesus had given to her. 
This section may derive from memories of a historical conflict between her 
and Peter which eventually caused her to leave the group. Thus, although 
this gospel probably wasn't written until the second century, it may preserve 
some traditions passed down from an earlier period. 

The Gospel of Mary contains some gnostic ideas, particularly in the 
section which describes the revelations she received from Jesus. This 
connection with gnosticism, together with the prominent role that the book 
gives to a female, may have led to its suppression by orthodox Christians. 

The Gospel of Thomas 

This gospel was probably first written in Greek, but the only surviving 
complete text is a Coptic translation discovered in Egypt in 1945. Its initial 

section indicates that it contains the "secret sayings" of Jesus, and the main 
text then gives 114 of these sayings. In most of the passages Jesus speaks 
as a teacher and his disciples make comments and ask questions. 

Because the initial section of this gospel refers to "secret sayings", many 
scholars believe that it was a secret gospel, at least originally. This means 
that it was thought to contain secret knowledge, and that only certain 
individuals were allowed to read it. Several other secret gospels, or 
fragments of them, have also been discovered. 

The Gospel of Thomas may preserve some authentic teachings of Jesus 
that aren't found in the bible. For this reason, many scholars regard it as the 
most important surviving non-canonical gospel. 

The Gospel of Judas 

The only extant copy of this gospel was found in Egypt, but the time and 
place of its discovery are uncertain, and there are indications that it passed 
through the Egyptian black market at one stage. 

The existing copy is a Coptic text, probably a translation of a still-lost 
Greek original. Unfortunately the manuscript is damaged in many places, 
and some pages are missing, so that translation and interpretation are 
difficult. However, many scholars believe that it was a secret book used 
mostly by certain gnostic sects of Christians. 

This gospel is notable in that it may depict Judas Iscariot as the most 
loyal disciple of Jesus, and an innocent martyr instead of an evil betrayer. 
But because of the damage to the manuscript, and the difficulties of 
interpretation, there is some uncertainty about this matter. In any case, this 
is one of the later gospels, probably not written until the second century, and 
most scholars doubt that it contains any authentic information about the real 
Judas Iscariot. 

The Lost Q Source 

This early gospel is also called the Lost Sayings Gospel and the Q 
Document. Like other hypothetical lost gospels, its probable existence has 
been inferred from studies of the New Testament gospels. In fact, it is 
thought to be the original source of many of the teachings of Jesus that are 
preserved in Matthew and Luke. The name "Q" comes from the German 
word "quelle", which means "source". 

Most scholars believe that this gospel was primarily a collection of the 
sayings of Jesus, with little narrative material or biographical information. In 
the earliest period these sayings must have been preserved orally, but later 
someone apparently collected them and wrote them down. They may have 
been collected for the use of early Christian missionaries as an aid in 
spreading the new faith. 

Scholars have put together possible reconstructions of this gospel by 
extracting material from Matthew and Luke, but some uncertainties are 
involved in exactly what should be included. There is a chance that some of 
the original parts of this gospel have been completely lost. 

The Pre-Markan Passion Narrative 

Scholars have deduced the probable existence of this gospel from careful 
studies of the Gospel of Mark. These studies indicate that the author of 
Mark obtained some material from an earlier source. This source has been 
lost, but the evidence indicates that it was a short narrative of the arrest, 
interrogation, and crucifixion of Jesus. For this reason, it is called the Pre- 
Markan Passion Narrative. 

The unknown author of this lost narrative had a good knowledge of what 
happened to Jesus during and after his arrest. The narrative might have 
even been written by a member of the first community of believers, known 
as the Nazarenes, who lived in Jerusalem in the years after Jesus departed. 

Reconstructions of the original form of this book indicate that it gave a 
simple straight-forward account of what happened before and during the 
crucifixion. Because this account may be the basis for all the later accounts, 
whoever wrote it performed an extremely important service. 

The Signs Gospel 

The likely existence of this hypothetical gospel has been deduced from 
studies of the Gospel of John. It is called the Signs Gospel because it 
apparently described some miracles of Jesus which it called "signs". Its 
unknown author may have regarded the ability of Jesus to perform these 
miracles as one of the "signs" that he was the Messiah. 

These miracles include the changing of water into wine (John 2:1-11), the 
giving of sight to the man born blind (John 9:1-8), the healing at the Pool of 
Bethesda (John 5:2-9) and the raising of Lazarus (John 11:1-45). The fact 
that these particular miracles aren't mentioned in the other gospels indicates 
that their authors probably hadn't read the Signs Gospel. 

In addition to the miracle stories, this gospel may have also contained 
some information about John the Baptist, and about the crucifixion and 
resurrection. But it probably didn't have much information about the 
teachings of Jesus. 


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